Publisher: PM Studios Inc
Release Date: 03/29/2022
Also Available On
I absolutely love Japanese survival horror games. Even the worst ones usually nail the atmosphere and scare factor and this goes all the way back to the PS1 era which is where they pretty much became mainstream. From the best ones like Silent Hill 3 to some of the worst each title is unique in its own way. I collect survival horror games because of the unique factors in each game. Some may have terrible visuals, voice acting, controls, or obtuse puzzles, but they usually always scare and have great monster designs and a great atmosphere.
Ikai only got my attention due to its physical release. I usually don’t pay attention to digital-only survival horrors as most are pretty bad, and rarely nail even the atmosphere. Ikai does struggle in some departments such as the story, characters, and visuals, but it’s really creepy and has a haunting atmosphere. You play as Naoko who lives in an ancient Japanese village. You are a priestess whose uncle leaves the village and leaves you in charge. Yokais take over and it’s your job to rid them before they take over the shrine, and there’s something about a wedding and an abusive fiancee. Yeah, it’s not clear and even the game’s description doesn’t say much about the story. There’s a mechanic in which you can draw Japanese symbols on paper to make seals to rid of the Yokai, but once you get to the library tables you have to stop every 5-10 seconds as they will pop up and kill you. It helps add a sense of urgency and dread.
Like most games that take less than two hours to complete you don’t get a chance to develop characters or stories. Your main goal is breaking four Yokai seals via puzzles and exploration. Naoko is defenseless so you can’t fight, but just run and hide. Most of the game is easy to figure out minus a few obtuse and obscure puzzles. The village itself is really small so it’s hard to get lost, but you usually have to find context hidden within. Bloody footprints, opening the right door to trigger an event – that kind of thing. The few puzzles involved are slider puzzles and putting objects in the right place. Some more frustrating exploration bits were being lost at the bottom of a well and having to find bamboo to use as climbing posts amongst tons of bones. I spend 45 minutes running around examining every inch of bone until I found them all.
Some events have you hiding from Yokai which wasn’t too bad. They are really creepy designs and can pop up at you out of nowhere. Ikai really gets the sound design down. Creaking floorboards, moans, whispering wind, and bumps that come out of nowhere can make you jump. The game is intense all the way through. It’s just too bad the Switch version suffers from serious graphical issues such as incredibly blurry visuals due to resolution downgrade. It also runs less than 30FPS a lot of the time, but it doesn’t look bad other than this. There’s lots of detail, great lighting effects, and good-looking textures otherwise.
Despite the visual downgrade the game still sounds great, and I can only recommend it if you find it on sale. The $35 physical price tag might be a bit steep for a two-hour game, but anyone who loves classic PS1/PS2-era Japanese survival horror games will find something to like here. I do have to knock it for it’s an almost non-existent and incoherent story and obtuse puzzles, but playing this in the dark with the lights off and headphones on could make for a fun and scary evening.